Review: The Highland Duke by Amy Jarecki

“Do you think you’ll swoon again?”
He scowled over his shoulder. “Men do not swoon.”

The Highland Duke was a hoot to read! It’s nonstop action across the roaming hills of the highlands with lots of quick-witted banter and charm. Add in a dollop of romance and a touch of brogue? The start to this series was a home run.

30842455Akira Ayres is a gypsy healer. She lives in Scotland on English controlled soil, and she’s tasked with healing wounded Jacobite rebels before they are shipped off. It’s when she’s looking for any stragglers that she hears a masculine groan in the woods. Before she knows it, Akira’s agreed to help one a brawny and mysterious highlander with a musket ball in his leg. Now she’s an accomplice to the man’s escape with a regiment of dragoons on her tail. As if that wasn’t bad enough? She has a heavy and thoroughly unconscious Geordie against her back.

Geordie, the Duke of Gordon, is part of a Highland uprising against English soldiers. He’s shot and left behind, and with the English closing in, he knows he won’t survive long without Akira’s help. Akira agrees, but Geordie doesn’t expect to remain unconscious for most of their journey nor does he count on the tenacity of English soldiers. That’s before he falls hard for a sweet woman who doesn’t even know he’s a duke.

I adored both of these characters so much. Geordie is such an adorable grump! Granted, he gets shot in the leg, so who wouldn’t be? But Geordie is determined to take care of himself only to find he cannot. He needs Akira. It doesn’t sit well for him, but he doesn’t have much choice. It’s breakneck speed for much of the book. From complications with Geordie’s injury to the myriad escapes and maneuvers in eluding the enemy. Add in the attraction and lust dogging their steps, and it made for a quick read.

Akira has to be the sweetest heroine I’ve read in a long time. She’s gentle and soft-spoken and kind-hearted. She gets roped into helping Geordie because of this inherent nature. But in Akira fashion, she takes it like a trooper. This girl overcomes a lot of her fears and has many more still to face. However, sweet does not equal meek! Geordie growls at her so much in the beginning (again, he’s an adorable grump), before Akira just explodes. Ooooh boy, is Geordie not going to make that mistake again! I loved it!

Despite all of their obstacles, this story was just so romantic. Geordie doesn’t realize how tired of being a duke he is until he meets Akira. She speaks and looks at him like a man, and he can’t help but be charmed by her guilelessness. And Akira isn’t used to being looked upon with anything less than suspicion or scorn because of her gypsy heritage. Geordie only sees the selfless healer before him.

Akira was dear and beautiful and made sunshine radiate in his chest when she smiled.

Gah, this one was so swoony. Lots of tension and buildup, some scorching scenes that were just perfect, and a steady wooing that brought the sugar to Akira’s sweet. I’m highly anticipating the rest in Amy Jarecki’s Lords of the Highlands series. Just the read I was looking for!

*This will be cross-posted on Alpha Book Club. You can find it here.*

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ARC Review: An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

She was no simpering miss. She was Ellen Burns, and she was going to help destroy the confederacy.

We need this book in today’s world. An Extraordinary Union is majestic in its character, it’s blunt in the face of anger and injustice and pain, it’s brutal in its truths. It’s not just a must read, it’s a need to read.

30237404Ellen Burns works as a spy for the Union. She poses as enslaved in the Confederate senator’s household, hoping to uncover information to end the Confederacy and hopefully, in her lifetime, see the end of slavery. It’s her sole mission until she meets the “package” in the form of a white, Confederate soldier who works his way into Elle’s thoughts. Only, he’s on her side. Is there a future for them together?

Malcolm McCall uses his charm and cunning to uncover secrets. As a top operative with Pinkerton, he’s good at his job, and it’s one of the reasons Elle initially mistrusts him. Is he playing a role with her too? But when their missions coincide, their connection builds and suddenly, they’re wondering if it’s possible for an African-American woman and a white man to thrive–to be together– in a world that wants to keep them apart.

In politics and intrigue, however, love has no bounds.

I love how Alyssa Cole tackles the Civil War Era in this novel. It doesn’t shy away from the despair of the period, but it also delivers an overarching feeling of perseverance and hope, highlighting strength and overcoming adversity, not just surviving. It challenges readers to face this hard past.

“Don’t you see?” she asked. “This is our homeland too. We shouldn’t have to wreak havoc on the land to be seen as citizens! We shouldn’t have to.”

This heroine blew me away. Elle takes so many risks fighting for what should be, for her people and for a better, united America. She’s cunning and daring, stealthy yet bold. And she never backs down. She also has a eidetic memory, and I love how her counterpart, Malcolm McCall, admires and cherishes this about her. At one moment, he tells her how amazing she is, and she’s simply all, “Oh, I know.” Love her!

Oh, and Malcom McCall. At first, Elle thinks he’s a confederate soldier but he’s really an undercover agent. He has such a disarming presence and makes bold advances, but he meets Elle in the middle, shaking up her world as he slowly begins to understand what they are truly fighting for.

McCall won my heart as much as he did Elle’s–little by little. Even though he’s fighting for the Union, he admits he doesn’t fully understand what’s happening with Elle and others on a personal level. His acquaintance and friendship and relationship with Elle really strikes a chord with him, and he was so romantic and genuine. It hit me over the head: Malcolm is worthy of our Elle.

I know I’m not entitled to anything. Everything in the world conspires against anything being possible between us, but the world can go screw.

I adored this novel, and by the end, I was bawling. I can’t wait to see where Ms. Cole takes the readers next. I know it’ll be a journey that sticks in the soul.

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Blog Tour+Review+Giveaway: The Black Lily by Juliette Cross

The Black Lily

by Juliette Cross
Publication Date: March 27, 2017
Genres: Adult, Entangled: Select Otherworld, Paranormal, Historical, Vampires, Cinderella Retelling

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SYNOPSIS:

Cinderella like you’ve never seen before…

With the threat of the vampire monarchy becoming stronger every day, the Black Lily must take drastic measures. As the leader of the underground resistance, Arabelle concocts the perfect idea to gain the attention of the Glass Tower. Her plan? Attend the vampire prince’s blood ball and kill him. Fortunately for Prince Marius, her assassination goes awry, and Arabelle flees, leaving behind only her dagger.

Marius is desperate to find the woman whose kiss turned into attempted murder, hunting for the mysterious assassin he can’t push out of his mind. But what he uncovers could change the course of his life forever…

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Review

She was a fiery beauty in the cold darkness, a beating heart among the lifeless, mundane world he knew too well.

Wow! This book starts with a BANG, and it doesn’t let up until the last page. I was so sad when it was over. The Black Lily is an exhilarating adventure that I can’t wait to re-explore.

Oh, what a merry chase our Arabelle gives the prince and his army. This girl has gumption out to the wazoo! I was so impressed by her. The story opens with her attempt to assassinate the prince, and she’s so self-assured and shows such badassery. She’s not afraid to use all weapons at her disposal to complete her task. Arabelle escapes by the skin of her teeth that night, and I was so excited to see the firecracker side of her. This girl has got it goin’ on! I laughed at how she keeps Marius (and really, the whole vampire community) on their toes.

And Marius? He completely knocks the wind out from Arabelle’s sails…by just being himself.

As soon as he catches sight of her at his ball, Marius is hooked. Arabelle is the last person he should want. She’s the Black Lily, the leader causing the uprising against the vampires. But when has that ever stopped love? Never, that’s when!

Marius doesn’t expect her complete hatred of his people, and even though Arabelle almost succeeds in killing him, it rejuvenates him almost. It’s a challenge he can’t help but rise to, and it opened him as a character. There’s a lot going on in the kingdom that he is unaware of, and Arabelle doesn’t fear showing him. I was on the edge of my seat every time they had a confrontation, and I couldn’t wait to see who came out on top. There’s an animal magnetism between them, a searching and meeting of wills.

Once in a blue moon, I’ll find a book that captures me heart and soul. This book is it. Arabelle astounded me with her fiery strength, with her vulnerability. Marius was dashing and daring and so sweet, it made my teeth ache. The Black Lily kept me anticipating every new page because it’s flowing with color and charm, with purpose. Overall, it’s a riot to read–Cinderella set in the dark, enticing woods of Maleficent.

I’m eagerly awaiting the next in this series. One of my favorite reads this year by far! 

ABOUT JULIETTE CROSS

Juliette is a multi-published author of paranormal and urban fantasy romance. She calls lush, moss-laden Louisiana home where she lives with her husband, four kids, and black lab named Kona. From the moment she read JANE EYRE as a teenager, she fell in love with the Gothic romance–brooding characters, mysterious settings, persevering heroines, and dark, sexy heroes. Even then, she not only longed to read more books set in Gothic worlds, she wanted to create her own.

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Review: Beauty of the Beast by Rachel Demeter

4.5 stars!

Wow. I am blown away by this remarkably haunting novel. It’s not a simple fairytale retelling. It explores the depths of pain and happiness, darkness and light. A story that will stay with me.

Isabelle makes a deal with the devil in order to keep her father healthy and her stepsisters cared for. But she’s not happy and even her blind father can see this. When her father asks her to take him to the Merchant’s Fair, Isabelle knows this is it. Her chance for them to start a new life. Only her father gets deathly ill and the only house for miles around is a decrepit castle.

34098873Adam lives in solitude. His scars are much more than skin deep, and he’s in no hurry to join the land of the living. Perhaps not at all. That changes one night when Isabelle comes along with her fiery spirit and her enchanting voice and suddenly, Adam’s having erotic fantasies and wanting that light for himself. He makes a bargain with her. If she stays, she stays for good. But things get complicated and sometimes, love works in mysterious ways.

“A strange haze rolled down the dirty pathway, which snaked through the vast forest in milky ribbons. Above head, the sky appeared black, oily, slicker than ink.”

I don’t think I’ve been blown away by the pure, dreamlike quality to a story’s language before. Beauty of the Beast swept me into the story so thoroughly that I didn’t come back until the very last page. While it is a fairytale retelling, it didn’t just rehash the Beauty & the Beast storyline. Instead, it captured its essence. Some things stayed the same which made me grin because I loved them, but others were so different and unique. Such ingenue was interwoven in this story.

Our main heroine is Isabelle. She has such a kind heart and an energy to her, but she’s determined to protect her ill Papa no matter the cost. Isabelle’s on the run from a dastardly suitor when she meets Adam for the first time. This is where her colors truly shine. The man is hiding in his cloak and in the darkness of his castle, and sure, Isabelle does have a healthy dose of fear. Who wouldn’t coming up against the “beast?” But Adam also tries to shut her out though the weather is fierce and her father is sick. She gives him an “I don’t think so,” and from there I was gone for her.

“His was a face of inconsistencies. Complex. Damaged. Predatory. And more than a bit intriguing.”

Then there’s Adam himself, our hero, shrouded in mystery. I was enthralled with his character. He’s badly scarred and has shut himself away because of it. He has the most tragic past, and I cried for him. There’s so much darkness inside him, but when Isabelle comes in with her streaming light, he wants to keep that part for himself. Adam does that in the only way he knows which is to demand it. Little by little, Adam’s lost in emotion for her and he opens up. The glimpse inside this man is spectacular. Music also plays a huge part in this book, making the story even more enchanting. It transcends the fairytale atmosphere and added such a depth to the characterizations. This is also how Adam survives, how he makes it year after year. It brings the true magic to this story—art as a form of love.

This was like an epic, gothic novel from decades past. We are catapulted to a different time where descriptions seized you and true love in all its dramatic glory was revered. I couldn’t believe how invested I was in their story, and I don’t think I can justify it in words.

The images throughout were haunting and beautiful. They’re so well done, and unique, and awe-inspiring. I highlighted half the novel with beautiful imagery. The downside to it were that some of the descriptions were overused, pulling me from the story. It’s why I rated this one 4.5, but I just adored this take on a fairytale. It’s not overdone, and it doesn’t follow the same tried and true trajectory. I loved the ingenious elements she incorporated and the inside peek into a damaged psyche.

“She’d never forgotten those beautiful words, which seemed to have been spun from an unworldy magic. The stories had planted themselves in her heart—and throughout the years, they’d blossomed into a throbbing desire.”

I’m going to reread this one because I feel there’s still so much to discover in it. There’s much more here than one read through can capture. At the end of this retelling, it becomes a story of imperfections and the beauty to be found in them. It’s love conquering all, that childlike dream that morphs into an adult yearning to be accepted and loved for who we are. I can’t wait to see what else this author will cook up.

*This is crossposted on the Alpha Book Club. You can find my reviews here.*

 

ARC Review: Beast: A Hate Story, The Beginning

Oh, how I loved this story! It’s beautifully chilling, and I never knew how to feel between one moment and the next. I originally picked this one up because I’ve been on a beast and mafia romance kick, and this one had both in equal measure. But it’s mind f&ckery at its finest. I’m still in inner turmoil.

28095140Frankie (I just love that name!) promises her life in exchange for her father’s. They owe money to the mob, and Beast—the interim mafia Boss—ends up handling the situation himself. His position, however, isn’t cemented and the last thing Beast needs is to make a mistake. Falling for Frankie instead of selling her as planned is one such mistake. Before he knows it, Beast’s caught up in his own weaved web around the fierce beauty. He spoils his deal with The Institute and somehow wants to keep her for himself. So, what happens when something you shouldn’t want—something you don’t want—becomes something that you do?

This story is never black and white. From the get-go, I was on the fence. Do I like Beast? Do I hate Beast? Does Frankie? Because as Frankie weaves and bobs, stands tall or sinks low, so do the readers. It’s a constant ebb and flow. One minute, I was sure I had one or both of these characters pinned down and in the next, they switch their end games or are so awash in their own internal debates that it sent me reeling once more into the gray. Beast uses fear and other sexual seductions against Frankie, and little by little, Frankie finds herself standing firm while wanting to bend. She builds barriers as quickly as the Beast tears them down. This is a complex story—both have such dark and deep demons—and we only scratch the surface. The outside conflict with Beast’s mafia position intertwines so well with the constant psychological warfare that goes on.

The conflict builds and builds and its maddening and enthralling and frustrating all at once. Constant turmoil and anticipation for something that’s coming just around the corner. But there’s also a strategic chaos at play—tricks of the mind, truths revealed in the body, and conflict that tears apart the soul. This book captured me and didn’t let go.

Beast: a Hate Story is a masterful weaving of dark and even darker desires, and I am eagerly anticipating the second book in this duet. Oh, the evil cliffhanger! 5 WOW stars!

*This is cross-posted on the Alpha Book Club and can be found here.*

ARC Review: Insight by Santino Hassell

A mind-bending romantic thriller, Insight offers a unique concept that tugs at your heart and keeps you guessing the whole way through!

30364791Nathaniel comes from a line of psychics, but for some reason, he only has minor empath abilities. He’s never quite “fit” in anywhere, and his school life is twice as hard when it comes out that he’s gay. With the disappearances of his mother followed by the death of his twin, Nate travels to New York to understand what happened. And when he starts having visions that his brother’s suicide wasn’t one, he’s clotheslined by it.

Trent is heading back to school when he sees Nate hitchhiking along the road. It’s not the first time he’s run into Nate in that small town of Texas, so he thinks it’s fate and allows Nate to ride with him. Trent’s intrigued by the shadows that lurk inside Nate, and their cross-country journey challenges Nate’s barriers at the same time Trent realizes what they have is much more than friendship.

The plot captured my attention right off the bat, and the story starts with a BANG. While this is the first novel I’ve read with Hassell as a solo author – I’m a BIG fan of his and Megan Erickson’s Cyberloveseries – his characters always have a vulnerability that pulls the emotion right out of you. I expect to be invested, and Insight is no different. And it’s a road trip romance for the first half. These were my favorite parts! There’s nothing like learning about someone while trapped in a car and deciding what music to listen to. It was sweet and steamy, and I just loved these two so much!

Then the plot kicks into overdrive with Nate discovering The Community. The group proclaims to want to help psychics acclimate but with the disappearances piling up, Nate doesn’t know who to trust.

One thing that was off for me was the pacing throughout the middle. Information comes so quickly and from so many different sources that I had to stop a few times when a character’s name was mentioned and think about who they were and what their relationship was to Nate.

This was a great first installment to The Community series, and I can’t wait to see where Hassell takes his readers next.

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Review: Edge of Power by Megan Crane

Full Disclosure: I hadn’t read any of the other books in this series. However, when I saw it was a Viking romance set in a futuristic world?  Sign me up! The beginning was rough for me, but by the middle, I was addicted. It was–and wasn’t–what I was expecting.

cover106896-mediumThe world has changed. After a series of storms and floods, the Earth isn’t what it used to be. Only certain parts of the U.S. are still known as habitable. Some parts are blocked away by kings and others by groups of raider Vikings. Wulf is part of the latter. But their worlds collide as Wulf goes on a reconnaissance mission in the middle of the Western Mainland with it’s horrible King Athenian. Get in, get out. That’s it.

Only Wulf doesn’t expect a different type of distraction.

Princess Kathlyn hears talk of the Raider King in their midst, and she decides to take her virginity into her own hands. She’ll deliver it to the Viking and curse her father all at once. She doesn’t expect Wulf’s potent masculinity or his bold fingers and devilish tongue. With time running out, both need to decide if their newfound and unwanted feelings are worth the risk.

The setting caught my attention first. The Earth is in disarray and there are those like King Athenian hoarding light and ruling people with an iron fist, and those like the Vikings who are said to be barbarians, but wish to expand their knowledge of the outside world.  I loved gaining insight into the politics and intrigue.

Wulf, the Raider King, is without a doubt an alpha. Everything he does–from the way he walks into a room or meets someone’s eye–proclaims it. He’s gruff and in-your-face and so cocky. Granted, it’s earned! But that leads me to the filthy-mouthed raider portion of my review. I actually didn’t like Wulf at the beginning. He was overly arrogant, and he has a habit of using curse words as adjectives every other sentence.  It became more gratuitous than anything. It pulled me out of the story.

In the same vein, the sex scenes are scorching hot, hot, hot but dirty, raw and explicit. I like my stories dirty so I was game, but I could see others not liking the language used.

Now, onto Kathlyn. I liked her. She doesn’t have the same experience growing up. As a princess in the King’s Mainland, her job is to get bids on her virginity and save her innocence. Say, what? Yes, her father is a total douchenozzle. Kathlyn, however, is going to change her future in any way she can. That’s how she ends up against a wall in Wulf’s cell realizing the pleasure in something Kathlyn had thought brought only pain.

Kathlyn’s world is separatist. It’s almost like the people are brainwashed into believing in their fates. I just adored how Kathlyn fights against it. Because despite how soft and sweet Kathlyn is, she also has a core of steel. I can’t imagine a better match for Wulf.

These two together were simply dynamite. Kathlyn softens Wulf while he gives her a little of his bravado and badassery. The character development took my breath away, and I was rooting for them something fierce.

Now, the opening starts off pretty slow. There are many internal monologues that I had to slog through, but once the story starts picking up speed, it doesn’t let you go to the very end. I had so many emotions–good and bad–and it made the reading experience so unique and heart-wrenching and satisfying, all at once. I gave this read a solid 4 stars because of it.

Edge of Power is a dark romance and those who read it should be aware of that. But it’s also a very raw and gritty story. It’s crass and bold and beautiful all at once. An epic journey that will stay with you long after the last page.

*I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review*

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Review: When Ash Remains by Dena Garson

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He strongly suspected that touching her would be like reaching for lightning.
Even if he didn’t burn up, he would never be the same.

When Ash Remains is a beautiful, sweeping story that takes readers on a journey–one which asks about destiny. If it’s fulfilled and if it’s fulfilled to one’s satisfaction.

34237379Tribal Warrior Kajika is on a mission to find a murderer. One who had slain an entire family in his tribe. He’s on the murderer’s trail when Kajika meets his one and only suspect, Ahyoka. But Ahyoka is no ordinary woman. She can speak with nature and animals. To a logical Warrior like Kajika, he’s skeptical of her spiritual talent. Until he can be sure of her, Kajika takes Ahyoka to his chief only to find out that she may be the only one who can solve the mystery.

Ahyoka is used to being outcasted for her gifts. If she’s not looked upon with suspicion, it’s revulsion. She doesn’t expect Kajika with his quiet, calm confidence who has the heart of a warrior but the kindness of a man she could love. As they discover the culprit behind the killings, their passion ignites, leaving them wondering if perhaps their meeting is more than coincidence–it’s destiny.

What an engrossing novel! From the first page, I was drawn into this world. Ahyoka is a force to be reckoned with. When she first meets Kajika, she’s very calm and surefooted about it all. She sees Kajika before he’s even upon her, the spirits of nature always alerting her to danger. I loved this aspect. It was so well done, and Ahyoka is a true heroine to admire throughout the book.

The spiritual, paranormal element is also how Kajika really develops in his character. Initially, he doesn’t believe in Ahyoka’s ability. Slowly but surely, he’s opened to another world–the one Ahyoka sees–and it brings them together so beautifully. Even without that element, though, Kajika is such a compassionate, patient person. He never rides Ahyoka off, even when everyone in Ahyoka’s tribe does. The slow burn ramps up, and with his acceptance of her, he unlocks the true beauty between them. And the steam 😉

Ms. Garson is a true master storyteller, weaving paranormal and romance and taking the reader on an intimate and personal journey. The gentle way the spiritual world is interjected, the images evoked, make this a novel that shines.

*This was reviewed by Michaelene for the Alpha Book Club. The cross post can be found here.*

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